Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off. Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) knew of what he spoke.
Just those simple words, with the accompanying car-washing hand motions and a prudent reminder to breathe, helped transform Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) from a wimpy, timid kid into a less-wimpy, more confident kid who kicked the tar out of the bullies who tormented him, especially Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Such was the plot of The Karate Kid, the 1984 semi-classic film that spawned The Karate Kid Part II (1986) and The Karate Kid Part III (1989), both with Macchio and Zabka; The Next Karate Kid (1994), which introduced a pre-Oscar Hilary Swank to audiences; and the 2010 reboot, The Karate Kid (with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in the mentee and mentor roles); and, of course, the current streaming sensation, Cobra Kai, which recently dropped its fourth season. If you want to see where it all began, now is the time, as The Karate Kid is streaming for free on Pluto TV.Directed by the late John G. Avildsen, The Karate Kid is basically Rocky for teenagers. That makes perfect sensei… er sense, since Avildsen directed Rocky. Daniel is Rocky and Mr. Miyagi is Mickey. It’s worth noting that Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi, and Burgess Meredith, who played Mickey, were nominated for Oscars in the Best Supporting Actor category. And if the rousing score seems to evoke Rocky, too, that also makes sense, since Bill Conti wrote the music for both films. And the same cinematographer, James Crabe, shot Rocky and The Karate Kid. The movie is pure cheese, which is half its appeal. We’re not convinced that Daniel’s signature move, the iconic crane kick, would ever actually work, or that Daniel, after taking a brutal beating, could even summon the strength to stand, much less pull it off. The bullies here belong in jail, and the cops, school boards, Veterans Administration, and/or child services would never tolerate the boorish, borderline sadistic behavior of the chief villain, John Kreese (Martin Kove). Plus, Ali (Elisabeth Shue) is way too good for either Daniel or Johnny. That said, the movie pulls perfectly at every heartstring, making you root for the good guys and boo the baddies, and the chemistry is just great, particularly between Macchio and Morita, Zabka and Kove, and Shue and both Macchio and Zabka.If you’re watching Cobra Kai and haven’t ever seen The Karate Kid, the movie is essential viewing. And it’s the same thing if you’re watching Cobra Kai and haven’t seen The Karate Kid in ages. Cobra Kai is sort of The Karate Kid: The Next Generation and the show is absolutely steeped in Karate Kid history and minutiae. Macchio and Zabka are back in their familiar roles, though, after a long period of clashing, their characters are currently allies. And the show features loads of recurring and guest appearances by actors from the original trilogy, among them Martin Kove, Elisabeth Shue, Randee Heller, Tony O’Dell, Tamlyn Tomita, Yuji Okumoto, Thomas Ian Griffith, and the late Rob Garrison. Just how deep dive is that casting? Tomita played Daniel’s love interest in The Karate Kid Part II and Griffith co-starred as the villain in The Karate Kid Part III. Cars, catchphrases, songs, bits of dialogue, Mr. Miyagi’s sanding discs, and more from the trilogy – including a couple of deleted scenes from the original movie smartly used as flashbacks — appear as Easter eggs throughout Cobra Kai, and the spirits of Mr. Miyagi and Pat Morita sweetly pervade the proceedings.The Karate Kid is currently streaming for free on Pluto TV.